Electronic Journal of Human Sexuality, Volume 6, Jan. 29, 2003


The Sex-Starved Marriage:
The Couple's Guide to Understanding Mismatched Sexual
Desire and Boosting Their Marriage Libido

Michele Weiner Davis
2003, Simon & Schuster
ISBN: 0-7432-2732-8
U.S. $24, CAN $ 38

Click on this cover and buy this book for $16.80

Reviewed by Annette Owens, M.D., Ph.D.

Desire discrepancy is one of the most common occurrences that lead couples to seek professional help. Sex counselors and therapists as well as marriage counselors frequently encounter couples with one partner less interested in sex than the other. In her latest book The Sex Starved Marriage, marriage therapist Michele Weiner Davis presents a vivid picture of intra- and interpersonal dynamics in such relationships. Based on decades of experience, she describes common feelings, thoughts, concerns and interactions of the partner with the lower sex drive as well as the higher-drive individual.

In a direct, candid style, Weiner Davis lists the possible causes why one partner's sex drive may be reduced. It sometimes does not require much difference in sexual desire to start a negative cycle, which can become a downward spiral. For those individuals who want to change these unhealthy and unhappy dynamics, Michele Weiner Davis emphasizes that both partners must become involved to effect a desirable change. She offers excellent advice on how to initiate the process as well as suggestions on how to improve the overall relationship, subsequently improving sexual desire and satisfaction.

I was pleased to read a lengthy discussion of Dr. Rosemary Basson's new model on sexual arousal and desire (Basson 2001). According to her model, women in longer-term monogamous relationships often do not initially experience sexual desire (conscious sexual urging, thinking, fantasizing) moving on to arousal, plateau, orgasm and resolution phases of the traditional sexual response cycle of Masters and Johnson (1966) and Kaplan (1979). Instead, more commonly, a woman's sexual arousal actually precedes her sexual desire. Only after a period of sexual arousal does she experience sexual desire, which will often lead to further arousal. Several men have told me that this model of sexual desire also is true for them.

Besides reflecting many of Weiner Davis' personal experiences, the book is well-founded on other important, recent contributions to our field, such as Dr. John Gottman's principles for healthy communication (Gottman & Silver 1999) and Dr. David Schnarch's second-generation approach to sex therapy, that is based on the Sexual Crucible™ theory and provides a new approach to treating desire disorders (Leiblum & Rosen 2001; Schnarch 1997).

The book does not specifically address situations where a partner may have reduced sexual desire and where sexual frequency is low or even absent because of severe pain (vulvodynia, chronic back pain, etc.). This is a general guide on how to improve a marriage or committed long-term relationship on several levels, including the desire leading to sexual interactions. For more complex cases that may benefit from intervention of certified sex counselors or therapists, Weiner Davis appropriately refers the reader to the American Association of Sex Educators, Counselors, and Therapists (AASECT). However, I predict that thousands of couples – not just in the United States – can benefit from her suggestions. Sex starved marriages and relationships are universal. This book provides a promising tool for creating better marriages and committed long-term relationships.

In conclusion: The Sex Starved Marriage is an important resource for individuals and couples wanting to improve their overall as well as sexual relationship. Founded on recent, well-accepted research and principles, it also serves as a guide for professionals who assist couples in overcoming desire discrepancy. I highly recommend this book.

Other books by Michele Weiner Davis: The Divorce Remedy: The Proven 7-Step Program for Saving your Marriage, Getting Through to the Man You Love,  Change Your Life and Everyone in It, Divorce Busting: A Step-by-Step Approach to Making Your Marriage Loving Again, and in collaboration with William Husdon O'Hanlon In Search of Solutions: A New Approach to Psychotherapy.

Basson, R. (2001) Using a Different Model for Female Sexual Response to Address Women's Problematic Low Sexual Desire. Journal of Sex and Marital Therapy, 27: 395-403.

Gottman, J.M. & Silver, N. (1999) The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work. Crown, New York.

Kaplan, H.S. (1979) Hypoactive Sexual Desire. Journal of Sex and Marital Therapy, 3: 3-9.

Leiblum, S.R. & Rosen, R.C, eds. (2000) Principles And Practice Of Sex Therapy, Third Edition, The Guilford Press, New York, London.

Masters, W.H. & Johnson, V.E. (1966) Human Sexual Response. Little, Brown, Boston.

Schnarch, D. (1997) Passionate Marriage. Holt, New York.

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